Picture this: a young woman visits an Apple store hoping to purchase a new iPad, and is DENIED the opportunity to do so. Why? Simply because she spoke Farsi. This might seem implausible, but it’s exactly what happened to Sahar Sabet, a student at the University of Georgia. When a sales representative overheard Sabet speaking Farsi with her uncle, he refused to sell the teenager an iPad. The U.S. trade embargo that prohibits goods from being exported to sanctioned countries such as Iran was cited as the reason behind the decision.
Although the customer ultimately complained to Apple’s corporate offices and was able to order the device online, shockingly, this is not the first time Apple has been accused of discrimination against Iranian Americans. In fact, similar instances have occurred in the past, with Apple denying Iranian customers the right to purchase goods from their retail stores, all the while citing the U.S. trade embargo as the reason. In one instance earlier this year, an Iranian wishing to purchase an iPod was denied and told that he would need to visit another store and not reveal the fact that he was Iranian. That these occurrences take place in 2012 is beyond disturbing.
Because of the trade embargo currently in place, retailers are indeed responsible for prohibiting the sale of goods to those individuals who may be suspected of attempting to export the items to the sanctioned countries. However, it defies any inkling of common sense, not to mention the letter and spirit of the embargo, to claim that the law was intended to apply in situations as those described above. Unfortunately, what we are left with is the very real danger of racial profiling and discrimination. Making matters worse, those charged with enforcing the trade embargo; inaptly trained employees of retailers such as Apple.
As an Iranian American and an attorney who respects the U.S. sanctions against the countries subject to the embargo, the case of Sahar Sabet and other Iranian Americans who have been the unintended targets of the embargo laws, causes me much concern. Perhaps the failure is a result of retailers not being properly trained or retailers not implementing clear policies in line with the spirit of the embargo laws. Without establishing appropriate guidelines, customers may be denied the opportunity to purchase goods based on the whim or mere speculation of retailers; or as seen in the case of Iranian American shoppers at Apple, based upon racial profiling.
While I do not purport to have the answers or the solutions to this intractable problem, what I can say with certainty is that it is crucial that changes be made so as to ensure that retailers comply with the embargo laws without engaging in outright racial profiling and discrimination. I have faith that we, as Americans, will be able to make this happen. Apple, the ball is in your court. Do the right thing.